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'Bluebird man' steps aside
Doyle honored for decades of helping bluebirds thrive
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Jimmy Doyle (left), Henry County coordinator with the Virginia Bluebird Society, shows the gifts he was given Friday during a ceremony honoring his more than 36 years of working to improve bluebird habitats in the county. (Contributed photos)
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Sunday, December 29, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

A group of bird enthusiasts gathered Friday to honor one of their own for more than 30 years of work to preserve native bluebirds in the area.

Jimmy Doyle of Martinsville has been the Henry County coordinator for the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) since its inception in 1996, but he has been a friend of the bluebird population much longer than that. For more than 36 years, Doyle has worked to protect and provide habitat for bluebirds throughout the county.

With his health declining, Doyle has had to cut back on his work. He is handing the reins as county coordinator to Dottie Haley, who organized a ceremony to honor Doyle on Friday at Chatmoss Country Club. Doyle has placed 13 boxes there over the years to serve as nests for the tiny birds.

“He’s pretty much given up most of his responsibilities,” Haley said of Doyle, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which makes breathing difficult. “We just wanted to do something to recognize him for everything he’s done.”

Haley said a group of about 15 “birders” and friends of Doyle honored him by presenting two new boxes that were placed at the country club, both of which bear plaques in his honor.

The plaques call Doyle the “bluebird man.”

Haley said Doyle suspected something was up when she asked for his help at Chatmoss.

“He was trying to get out of coming this morning, but I called him and said, ‘I really need you to come this morning.’” she said Friday. “He was surprised, and he was really glad to see everybody.”

Those who attended the ceremony “were really anxious to come, and that’s really a testimony to what kind of person he is,” Haley added.

Boy Scout Troop 63 donated materials and built the new nesting boxes. Local residents donated money to buy the materials to mount and add the plaques, Haley said. The Scout troop also plans to mount four more boxes at Eastman Chemical, where Haley works.

The nesting boxes are a large part of Doyle’s legacy.

Because bluebirds are “nesting cavity” birds, they can’t dig holes in trees to make their nests like woodpeckers do, Haley said, so they have to find existing holes in which to nest.

“People don’t leave dead trees around anymore ... and there’s not as much farmland,” she said. “The habitat was getting scarce,” and other birds were competing for the food supply.

As a result, Doyle said, he began building the boxes when he lived in Horsepasture because he had gotten used to seeing the birds. “I got so interested and thought they were so beautiful and started putting up boxes around the house, and (I’ve) been doing it ever since,” he added.

Despite the fact that bluebirds have to compete with more aggressive birds, such as starlings and sparrows, for nesting space, Doyle said the boxes “have saved them” in the area. Haley gave much of the credit for that to Doyle’s tireless work.

“He would go to somebody and ask if he could put a box on their property, or he would go back and show them” how to monitor a box, she said. “For a while, (bluebirds) were pretty scarce and needed some help, so it was a very personal thing for him.”

Doyle speculated the bluebird population had fallen by as much as “50 percent, maybe more” when the VBS began, but their numbers have increased in recent years.

Christine Boran is the state coordinator for the VBS as well as county coordinator for Patrick and Floyd counties. She got involved with the VBS after taking an interest in the birds when she moved to Woolwine from Illinois in 2006.

Boran met Doyle on Friday during the ceremony and shares his passion for the nesting boxes and their benefits.

“The population has come back to healthy numbers in the last decade because of the nesting boxes,” she said. Also important is that bluebirders got the word out on the need to put up and monitor the boxes.

“If you just check them once a week and put up predator guards, they have a much better chance of fledgling success,” Boran said, referring to cone-shaped metal disks that are placed under the nest boxes to prevent snakes and other animals from climbing up the poles that hold the boxes.

“It still amazes me that if you make a box with a hole this size, a bluebird will find it and use it,” Haley added. Bluebirds can get inside holes that are only 2 inches in diameter.

Never one to seek recognition, Doyle deflected the credit he received Friday, though he was happy to see so many who share his interest in bluebirds.

“I was totally surprised,” he said. “It was a shock, and I appreciated it ... (but) I’d much rather have been out there monitoring bird boxes.”

Doyle said he is glad to be passing the torch to Haley, who said she plans to call upon his expertise regularly if she runs into problems.

For his part, Haley said Doyle “wished he had another 40 years to do what he’s been doing,” but an improved bluebird population and nesting space are rewards enough.

“It’s all due to people taking an interest in them and putting up boxes,” Doyle said. “It’s a lot better than it has been. It was pretty hard getting them started, but I guess I’ve done a pretty fair job at it.”


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